Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Crashes Eliminate Johnson, Jones and Reddick from Cup Playoffs

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

Two multi-car crashes became the end of the road for Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones and Tyler Reddick making the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

During Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at the Daytona International Speedway, all three had different implications. Those being Jones looking to wrap-up his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing with another playoff berth, Reddick trying to keep the Sunoco Rookie of the Year battle alive and Johnson aiming for one last shot at an eighth Cup title.

Due to those accidents, none will happen as the downfall of those guys began on Lap 152 when aggressive driving from Reddick led to mayhem in Turn 3.

Reddick pulled a slide job on Kyle Busch to take the race lead, but both hit the wall which caused an accordion effect where Jones got sideways and slammed the wall. Further back, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Ryan Preece, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. couldn’t escape the mess and it led NASCAR to bring out the 19th red flag of 2020.

Despite some right side damage, Reddick would continue and so did Johnson, who went low to just avoid the multi-car collision.

The same cannot be said for Jones as his bid of a third straight playoff berth was over and like his tenure at JGR after this year, he’s the odd man out among the four-car stable for the final 10 races.

Jones was upset with Reddick’s driving due to the fact he didn’t clear Kyle Busch and proceeding to ruin many driver’s nights and seasons.

“He ran into the wall and wrecked everybody behind him. It’s frustrating,” said Jones. “He had way too much speed to try to make that move up the hill with the grip that is left in the tires. We had a lot of laps on them. It’s unfortunate.”

This isn’t the first time Jones was vocal on the once strong rookie contender. He reminded everyone that Reddick ended his day at the first Pocono race and with Saturday’s actions, it further strained his perception on the two-time Xfinity Series champion.

“Two times making racing moves that were not going to work out. Unfortunately, it was to the determent of us today,” said Jones. “The Auto Owners Camry was pretty fast. We were up front. I think we were running third when we got wrecked, so we had a shot. We needed to win — we were there, we just didn’t get it done.”

Once the 10 minute and 13 second red flag was lifted, the field would go full attack mode until a dose of drivers fighting tooth and nail to get the race lead went awry on Lap 159.

Joey Logano and Bubba Wallace were leading the pack until Logano blocked a hard charging Denny Hamlin on the bottom. It made Logano sideways and some contact was made with Wallace, but kept it straight.

William Byron, who was fighting for the 16th and final playoff spot, squeezes by both drivers and it made Logano even sideways that led to the another multi-car crash. Logano got hit from behind by Matt DiBenedetto which sent him into Matt Kenseth before darting right into Johnson’s No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.

Johnson would get hit again by Kenseth which now damaged both sides of his car as the pileup took out Reddick and Cole Custer.

With drivers like Newman calling Reddick a “goofball” who “ran out of talent,” this was a permanent crushing blow to his ROTY bid as Custer locked up the award due to his win at Kentucky which made him the only rookie making the playoffs.

“Our No. 8 KCMG Chevrolet team came out today with one goal, and that was to win. We gave it our all and came close to making the NASCAR playoffs during my rookie season in the NASCAR Cup Series,” said Reddick. “I tried to make a move for the lead with about eight laps to go, and it didn’t work out like I planned. It unfortunately hurt our car and chance to win.”

From Reddick’s perspective, he was clear for a brief moment, but due to what he describes the 2.5-mile superspeedway, “things changed quickly.”

“There weren’t a lot laps left at that time, and you have to do what you can to try to win to make the playoffs,” said Reddick. “I promise we’re still going to be fighting hard every week for the next 10 weeks to get our first win in the Cup Series.”

Johnson brought his car back into the pits to repair the damage, but would have to wait as the second red flag of the night (the 20th this year) came out. Five minutes and 34 seconds later, the No. 48 crew were at work to get it back on track and finish the race which they did, but the damage was done.

DiBenedetto crossed the line in 12th while Johnson finished in 17th, missing a shot of one final playoff run by just six points. Not only that, the seven-time champion had to see his teammate William Byron score his maiden victory, granting him an opportunity to fight for the championship.

“Definitely disappointed to not be in the Playoffs – that was the number one goal to start the year,” said Johnson. “But when I look back at the disqualification at Charlotte and then missing the Brickyard 400 due to my COVID-19 positive test and only miss it by six points – we did all that we could this year.”

Johnson said all he and his entire race team can do is simply finish on a high note, hoping to visit victory lane at least one last time which he hasn’t been able to since Dover in June 2017.

“I’m so thankful for Hendrick Motorsports and the career that I’ve had there, the relationship with Ally and their continued support for this race team,” said Johnson. “Cliff Daniels (crew chief) and these guys on my team – they pour their guts out for me. There’s 10 races left, 10 trophies to go chase and we’ll have to focus our efforts there.

“The last three years have been tough – we all know that. I think we’ve shown some bright spots and Cliff has done a really good job of leading this team and taking this team in the right direction. I think we can show that and close out the year.”

The playoffs will go on without the disappointed trio as the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway will kick-off the 10-race playoffs next Sunday at 6:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography ranging from Idaho athletics to auto racing with ambitions of having his work recognized.